Dalai Lama: If only Tibet had Oil...

Published: Monday, Nov 19,2012, 12:53 IST
Dalai Lama, New York Times, President Barack Obama, Tibet, Tibetan self-immolations, Time, dalai lama statement, lahasa valley, devinder sharma column

Several years ago, must be sometimes between 1988-89, I was interviewing Dalai Lama at McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, where he lives in exile. I was then the State Correspondent for the Indian Express, posted in Shimla. It was during the course of the pretty-long interview wherein we had discussed about what Dalai Lama called as 'cultural genocide' in Tibet, I asked him whether the peaceful path he had always advocated and stands for would ever get him closer to an autonomous Tibet.

Dalai Lama burst out laughing. He said he knew that most young Tibetans would be calling him 'foolish' Dalai Lama for refraining them from adopting a militant path. He then went on to explain how the youth were getting impatient. We talked a little bit about the peaceful methods of Mahatma Gandhi from where he drew inspiration. And then, after a little while I asked him something like this: "You seem to be so helpless about the future of Tibet, and with the international community not pitching in for you, what is that you regret the most?"
Dalai Lama went quiet for sometime, and then he said:
"If only Tibet had oil ..."

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I have never forgotten those words. They still reverberate in my mind. Whenever I read any report about the struggle for free Tibet, Dalai Lama's words come back to me loud and clear. So when I read the New York Times report China's strange Tibetan silence (reprinted by Hindustan Times, Nov 11, 2012), which talked of the series of self-immolation's that continues unabated since Feb 2009 killing 55 people while the remaining 15 are still grappling with life, I shudder at the silence that prevails in China, in India and of course worldwide. While Tibet burns, the world looks the other way.

Still worse, the report says: Whether it be antipathy or apathy, many Chinese have been unconsciously swayed by government propaganda that describes the self-immolators as "terrorists" even as unrelenting censorship blocks any public airing of their grievances, which include complaints about restrictions on Tibetan Buddhism and educational policies that, in some areas, favour Mandarin over Tibetan. I can understand the Chinese not wanting to talk about it, but what stops the United Nations Security Council from calling for a debate or discussion on the Tibetan uprising? Why can't US President Barack Obama, who got a second term last week, not have the courage to voice concern if not reprimand China for its act of repression? Why can't the European leaders — British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel raise this grave issue?

Well, we know why the world is quiet. As Dalai Lama had said: "If only Tibet had oil..."

 I was reading another damming report in the Time weekly. Captioned: As Tibetans Burn Themselves to Protest Chinese Rule, Communist in Beijing Stress Happiness in Tibet (Time Nov 10, 2012, The report began by saying: "Two days before, five Tibetans had self-immolated in three different parts of the high plateau, among them three teenage monks and one young mother from Rebkong (known as Tongren in Chinese). Two other Tibetans burned themselves in Rebkong this week, according to overseas Tibetan groups. 
tibet young boy died 2009Separately, in Xining, the provincial capital of China‘s western Qinghai province, where many Tibetans live, hundreds of Tibetan students joined together on the evening of Nov. 9 for a candlelight vigil to honor the protesters who, as flames engulfed their bodies, invariably shouted for an end to Chinese repression and the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who fled into exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule more than five decades ago."

It is intriguing how the supreme sacrifice of one man in a distant land — Tunisia — triggers an Arab Spring toppling the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya while it continues to threaten the governments of Syria and Jordan. Mohamed Bouaziz had doused himself before setting himself on fire, and the fire had spread so quick and so wide. That was in Dec 2010. And I don't think Bouaziz could have ever imagined the power of self-immolation. But how come, self-immolation by a young monk Tapey, in his mid-twenties, on Feb 27, 2009, in Tibet goes largely unnoticed outside Tibet's borders. 

Within Tibet, Tapey's death had certainly triggered a storm. According to the International Campaign for Tibet 70 people have immolated themselves. This is indicative of the terror and repression that prevails in Tibet. But regardless of the grave human tragedy and continuous violation of human rights, the Chinese propaganda machinery continues to claim (as per the Time report): “The last 10 years was the period when the people in Tibet have gained the most benefits,” we were told by Padma Choling, the chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The accomplishments of the Communist government in Tibet were examined in voluminous detail. Airports have been built, schooling made free. Complimentary medical checks are being offered for monks and nuns, who can now watch the state-run news on televisions powered by new power lines. Kilometers upon kilometers of new roads have unfurled across the Tibetan moonscape.

The government has built greenhouses, shower facilities and garbage dumps for thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries or nunneries with more than 20 clerics. Government health officials have given crucial information to nuns about how women’s bodies work. All Tibetan farmers and herders will be gifted “safe new houses” by 2013, according to Padma Choling. The urban unemployment rate is only 2.69% in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, reported a Han official in charge of the local Organization Department.

Tibetan capital Lhasa, we were instructed, has been voted the happiest city in China four times in a five-year period. “Happiness is dynamic, happiness need to be experienced,” enthused Che Dalha, the Communist Party secretary for Lhasa. “Today’s Lhasa is just like what they sing in the song: The sky in Lhasa is the most blue; the clouds in Lhasa are the most white; the water in Lhasa is the clearest; the air in Lhasa is the freshest; the sunshine in Lhasa is the brightest; and the people in Lhasa are the happiest.”

I bet if Tibet had oil, the United Nations, the World Bank/IMF and the Oil MNCs would have forced the big powers to act. The geo-political situation would have undergone a dramatic change. President Obama would have appealed (and issued a subtle warning) to the Chinese government for maintaining human rights. European governments too would have followed, and peace making countries like Switzerland, Norway and Sweden would have been active. Perhaps there would have been no need for it. The fight for the control of oil would have got Tibet its much desired Independence long ago.

Dalai Lama was so right: "If only Tibet had oil ...."

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